Archive | Livestock

Starting a Small-Scale Livestock Venture: Understanding Market Considerations

Kelly Klober

Farmer sitting near pigsA number of years ago a neighbor called with questions about starting a purebred swine operation in our area. It was going to be based on a breed not already present in the area, but one that was well-regarded and had been used often to produce some good, rugged cornfield shoats across the Midwest.

I agreed that it was a good idea as the breed was one that we had once considered. I was about to advise a small, careful start when he told me that they had already purchased 30 gilts and two rather pricey breeding boars. Within two years they were out of the purebred swine business. It was a case of too much too soon.

A livestock venture and the market for it tend to begin small, and it will take time for both of them to develop. Along with acquiring needed skills and experiences, the producer must determine to what level of production the venture can be grown and continue to garner good selling prices and returns.

Price is set by the quality of the output and the demand for it. The producer can certainly shape the quality and, to an extent, have control over the amount of output (at least from his or her farm into nearby markets where most direct sales are generated). Before selling a single boar of his chosen breed our neighbor had the numbers in place and the money spent to be producing them by the score.

It is a mistake that we have all made, and some of us have made it several times. A young man of our acquaintance once ordered 50 quail chicks, grew them out with comparative ease and sold them quickly for a tidy profit. He next placed an order for 1,000 quail chicks, and the results were disastrous.

Small creatures though they may be, 1,000 quail chicks taxed his facilities, almost immediately problems began to arise that were beyond his level of experience, and a market that bought 50 and wanted a few more had no need for them by the hundreds. His losses of birds and dollars were substantial.

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Snap! Build a Weasel Trap to Protect Your Poultry

It’s another idyllic evening on your patch of rural heaven. Tired from a long day, you drop off to the Land of Nod, but all is not peaceful in the kingdom this night. A feathered commotion shatters your slumber. What could it be? Grabbing the flashlight, and perhaps your trusty scattergun, you plunge into the inky darkness to defend your livestock. Needless to say, mayhem ensues and your light reveals your worst fears. A weasel has been on a murderous rampage. What do you do when nature invades the coop? Bite back!

Few wild creatures have the reputation for barnyard mayhem that the tiny weasel does. A member of the mustelid family, it shares the same bloodlust as its cousins the mink and wolverine. Tipping the scales at just a few ounces and barely a foot long, this tiny hunter is well-equipped for relentless pursuit of a meal. Slim and slinky, it is astounding the cracks they can crawl through to get at a rabbit hutch. Poultry fencing is no barrier either, and they can find a way into any building.

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Tips for Marketing and Selling Your Pork


• Begin by making sure you have all your bases covered in regards to
rules and regulations.
• Get your pig transportation and pork delivery methods set up, or at
least have an idea and a plan of how you will go about solving these
critical logistics.
• Create the backbone of your Internet presence — your website — with
the help of web-savvy friends, business partners, or pay for professional
web design services.
• Begin your social media campaign immediately, and spend time every
day updating it all.
• Go out into the world and sample the heck out of your product.
• Work with event people to be showcased at relevant gatherings.
• Make sure your pork ordering webpage is clear and attractive. Include
information on payment, shipping costs and delivery schedule.
• Set up your inventory system so that you have a general idea of what
you have on hand at any given time. You should be ready to fulfill
orders when you add an email link or phone number for customers
to submit orders and begin to advertise your pork and request orders
on your social media or any other marketing materials you produce.
When a customer emails you or calls you with an order you can now
create an invoice in Paypal or other format. Utilizing online invoicing
or a simple invoice pad and cash/check system is up to your preference,
but definitely keep an ear open and listen to what your customers
want. After you receive your orders for the week, it is time to map
out your delivery route. Your invoices become your packing list.
• Deliver your products on the correct date and time with a smile.

These tips appear in the October 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Tips to Boost Egg Production

Brown and white eggs found at an outdoor market in NYC.

Fresh eggs sold at outdoor market in New York City.

Finding tips to boost egg production is important. Why? The fruit of the hen is one of the great staples of the human diet and is one of the major pillars of the local foods movement. Based on the many questions I have received, one of the great challenges now is how to put available poultry genetics to use to boost egg production.

Every hen needs to produce just two fertile eggs each year to maintain her lineage. Beyond that point, factors such as breeding, nutrition and bird comfort and well-being will determine the productivity of the birds.

Right or wrong, the natural food movement and the modern poultry-keeping renaissance have come to be very heavily reliant upon the brown-shelled egg and the birds that produce it. Brown egg shell color can range from terra-cotta and deep, chocolate brown to a very pale brown hue. They are largely produced by breeds and crosses that were developed to be either meat birds or multi-use birds producing some eggs and meat from birds with a moderate growth rate.

Early in the last century, extensive work went into boosting egg production within many of the brown egg laying breeds, but most of that ended with World War II. Since then, most poultry breeding has been along the lines of hybridization or to amend breed type to produce an industrialized bird for the colony house and the laying plant. They will look the part, but they aren’t what they once were and may even be coasting along on performance data derived from birds from that earlier era.

The larger-framed, heavier-bodied brown egg layers were never meant to compete on par as egg layers with breeds like the Leghorn. They are larger-framed, slower to develop, will consume more feed while growing, and to maintain condition, will need more housing and nest space. They will also produce fewer eggs per hen. The larger size can give them an element of durability that may be lacking in birds with higher metabolisms, even some brown egg laying hybrids.

The brown egg laying hybrids often have a rather rapid burnout factor, and many flocks are turned after but a single season of laying. And, sadly, their smaller size and the wear and tear of that time in production tends to leave them with very little salvage value. The better laying lines of purebred brown egg layers tend to come from the plain vanilla breeds such as the White Plymouth Rock, Australorp and the single comb Rhode Island White.

Boosting Egg Production with Breeding

With concerted programs of selective breeding, flocks of these breeds can be made steadily more productive. A quite modest flock of closely bred females can produce the replacement pullet chicks for even quite large laying flocks. Such a venture then becomes truly sustainable as the most important of all inputs, the seedstock, comes from the farm.

This venture will hinge upon identifying the most productive females and their male offspring and then using them to create a line that will perform on the home farm which is exactly like no other.

The Hogan method has been taught for decades as a tool to evaluate the layer potential of young stock and the continuing performance of birds in production. It is fairly easily taught, but does require that each bird be taken in hand. The laying flock should be worked at regular intervals to remove poor performers and ill and injured birds, and to ascertain that the valuable feedstuffs are going only to those birds that are most fully and profitably utilizing them.

The egg producer now needs to get as serious about breed choice and performance improvement as the producer of fine Hereford cattle or blooded horses. If your flock is rooster-heavy, filled with hens past their second year of lay, has at least one of every breed in the big hatchery catalog, and the only culling is being done by the raccoons and foxes, you are seeing some of the answers to your laying performance questions.

To build upon the key elements of sustainability and predictable performance, the good egg producer must become a good poultry breeder in order to boost egg production. A note for ordering chicks: Good foundation stock does not come cheap, and better-bred pullet chicks may now cost $7 each or more. Of late, I have seen many trios of adult breeding birds (one male and two females) priced at $75 to $100 or more. For chickens? Well, it is still a lot less expensive than the going price for even the most commonplace feeder calf.

Successful, profitable egg production begins and ends with the hen, her breeding and her care.

Boosting Egg Production with Feed

Good feed is the fuel from which eggs are produced, and a thoughtful plan of nutrition is essential for chickens at all stages of development.

Individually, they consume rather minute amounts of feed daily, and their rations must be nutrient-dense and consistent in form. Depending on her size and breeding, a hen at lay will consume between 4 and 8 ounces of feed daily. Those concerned with paring feed costs should thus begin with birds that will produce eggs in a truly feed-efficient manner. And to that end, the producer should be doing the record-keeping and performance monitoring needed to determine the actual pounds of feed fed to produce each dozen of eggs.

Of late, some rather exotic poultry ration formulations have been bantered about and many reasons given for them. The feeding of some may be a condition of a particular market outlet, but that market must then pay a sufficient premium to offset the added costs of such feedstuffs. Some can be quite costly to formulate; some of their components might not be readily available, and specially formulated rations may have to be bought in lots no smaller than 1 to 3 tons. The old rule of thumb is that to be able to afford the on-farm equipment needed for feed processing, you will have to produce a minimum of 100 tons feed yearly.

Steady improvements in poultry ration quality have marked the modern livestock producing era. The knowledge of nutrients that make better rations was often applied first to rations for baby chicks and laying hens. Now we see some of the major feed suppliers offering all-vegetable blends of poultry feeds, feeds with bolstered levels of omega-3, and rations fortified with components such as kelp and fish meal.

A few key aspects of poultry nutrition include:

  • Begin with a high-quality chick starter purchased in amounts to ensure the freshness of supply. Most starter/growers are now meant to be fed until the young pullets produce their first eggs. They are doing a twofold task of developing frame and an egg tract and need a high-quality ration to do so. After those first eggs appear, the young females should be gradually shifted over to a quality laying ration. As a very early starter feed some are going back to the old practice of offering finely chopped, hard-boiled eggs to the chicks several times each day. For wholesomeness, offer no more finely chopped egg than the chicks will clean up in 20 minutes or so at each feeding. This will work especially well for chicks that have had a hard time in shipment or otherwise been stressed. Within a short time they should be shifted over to a complete starter ration that is fed free-choice.
  • Laying rations formulated in a small or mini-pellet will help reduce feed wastage. The birds are better able to retrieve pelleted feedstuffs when they are flipped from the feeder.
  • Buying feedstuffs at roughly two-week intervals, if possible, is one way to safeguard ration freshness and to even out feed costs over the course of a year.
  • Once home, all feedstuffs should be protected from vermin and dampness. A 55-gallon barrel will hold a bit over 300 pounds of most feed types.
  • Most complete poultry feeds are now fully supplemented including needed minerals and grit. Though the offering of oyster shell was once widely prescribed, it was often set out in forms too large for the birds to adequately use.
  • Many old hands provide grit simply by dumping creek sand into low-sided wooden boxes made accessible to the birds. Cherry granite grit of the appropriate size is a clean grit product available at a reasonable cost.
  • Scratch grain is not needed in many feeding programs now. Birds will prefer it to the complete feeds that bolster egg-laying performance and egg output may decline if too much grain is consumed. It may be best to provide no more grain than the birds will consume in 20 minutes or so, and offer it at the end of the day to bring them back into the house before closing it for the night. Such a feeding of grain will give the birds an added boost of warming energy going into a winter night.
  • Feedstuffs and seedstock are never areas for cutting costs.

You cannot wring many eggs out of elderly hens and those bred for other purposes, but too many are still supplying rather costly feedstuffs to birds that cannot make good use of them.

Increasing egg output begins with practices as simple as supplying the birds with fresh and clean drinking water and feedstuffs. It continues with each producer gaining the experience to know which birds to replace, when to replace them and having developed the better birds with which to replace them.

Stress Can Slow Egg Production

Seasonal stresses can affect egg production. Producers in the Southwest have long known that extended periods of wind and heat can send egg production into a nosedive. Likewise, hard cold snaps of even short duration can send egg numbers downward. Here in Missouri, we have the good fortune to often get long spells of deep cold and harsh summer heat within a few months of each other.

Veteran producers have a bit of a bag of tricks into which they can dip when their birds are in need of a bit of a boost.

1. A boost in protein levels can often be helpful during these times. Some will top-dress hens’ regular laying ration with a bit of gamebird breeding ration that is substantially higher in crude protein content. I prefer a laying ration that is 18 to 20 percent crude protein. This is much higher than many generic laying mashes that top out at 16 percent crude protein.

2. A bit of green feed can be offered in the form of leafy legume hay fed from a simple mesh feeder suspended just above the birds’ heads. Stalks of one of the greens crops such as collards can be suspended above the birds in a similar manner. This practice works well in cold and damp weather and gives birds kept in the house a way to work off some energy. A flake or two of alfalfa hay offered every couple of days will also help maintain good yolk color and boost bird fertility. I had a vo-ag teacher that held that there wasn’t a ton of livestock feed anywhere that could not be made better by the simple addition of a bale of good alfalfa hay.

3. Get a vitamin/electrolyte product into the drinking water and keep it in use during periods of stress.

4. There are a number of appetite-stimulating/tonic-type products that can be added to drinking water. This can range from simple concoctions of red pepper or garlic or oregano to a wide array of commercial booster products.

5. Make sure that the birds are free of performance-robbing parasite loads. Just arriving on the scene from abroad are wormers that can be used while the birds are in lay with no need to discard the eggs.

6. Another trick even older than me is to drizzle a couple of ribbons of wheat germ or cod liver oil atop the laying ration in cold weather a couple of times each week.

Kelly Klober specializes in raising livestock using natural methods. He is the author of Talking Chicken, and Dirt Hog: A Hands-On Guide to Raising Pigs Outdoors … Naturally, and Beyond the Chicken available from Acres U.S.A. For more information visit or call 800-355-5313.

This article appears in the August 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Teff Grass as Alternative Forage for Horses

teff erte_002_lhp

Bermudagrass has long been popular as forage for horses, but teff grass has potential as an alternative. Teff is not only palatable for the horses but they’ve shown some preference for it in certain situations, according to a study at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Teff has become popular in the western United States as a horse forage but not yet in the rest of the nation. “There seems to be indecision about it as far as I can tell,” said Ken Coffey, an animal science professor who supervised the study. “It’s getting easier to get seed for it now than in the past, so more people are trying it under different conditions to see if it will work or not.” The researchers compared horses’ preference for teff at four different growth stages with that of Bermudagrass harvested at two maturity stages. The results showed that the horses preferred the teff grass harvested at vegetative growth stages over even vegetative Bermudagrass.

This article appears in the July 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Top Herd Health Problems, Natural Solutions

by Jerri Brunetti

The following reports are based on the gleanings of a number of animal owners who have utilized “traditional” methods on their livestock herd with various rates of success. These suggestions/reports have not been evaluated by the U.S. FDA and are not intended to act as a substitute for proper professional care, i.e. the diagnosis, prevention, treatment and prescriptions provided by licensed veterinarians. If your livestock suffers from any malady or health condition always consult with your veterinarian before utilizing any alternative methods of products.


Remove grain from diet; forages only. Herbs to be given orally per day: 2 bulbs garlic, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1 ounce thyme, 1 ounce common sage. Half given in the morning and half in the evening. Use stimulating liniment (such as white liniment or Vicks on udder); milk out frequently (every couple of hours). Continue Reading →